Fried, lights out again, seals twin bill sweep

August 27th, 2020

ATLANTA -- Asked who the Braves’ first-half MVP has been, didn’t hesitate before saying, “.”

“I’ve been saying it for a few years how special that left arm is,” Freeman said. “We saw it last year and now he’s really putting it together. I don’t think we’d be here without Max.”

Thanks to Freeman’s two-run homer in the sixth and Fried’s latest impressive start, the Braves completed a seven-inning doubleheader sweep of the Yankees with a 2-1 win on Wednesday night at Truist Park.

With the sweep, the Braves exited the first half of this 60-game season sitting atop the National League East with the NL’s second-best record (18-12). There’s plenty left to accomplish for a team aiming for a third straight division crown. But there’s reason for this team to be proud of what it has overcome over the season’s first month.

Fried, who has an NL-best 1.35 ERA, stands as the only remaining original member of Atlanta’s rotation, which lost Mike Soroka to a season-ending Achilles tear during his third start. But the hiccups extend beyond the starting staff, which was also depleted when Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb were demoted.

Ozzie Albies has spent the past three weeks on the injured list and Ronald Acuña Jr. had missed two weeks before returning to hit the longest homer of his career in the first inning of Wednesday’s doubleheader.

Acuña’s homer backed the stellar debut of top pitching prospect Ian Anderson, who allowed one hit over six scoreless innings as the Braves claimed a 5-1 win in the first game of the twin bill.

“So impressive,” Fried said. “I can’t say enough good things about Ian.”

Anderson became the first Braves pitcher not named Fried to complete six innings since the recently-demoted Kyle Wright did so back on Aug. 8. Still, somehow, the Braves have overcome these many obstacles and won at a rate that would equate to 97 wins during a 162-game season.

“It wasn’t by any stretch easy to get there with everything we’ve been through,” manager Brian Snitker said. “But these guys just keep grinding.”

Think about where the Braves were on July 3, when they opened Summer Camp without Freeman and All-Star reliever Will Smith, who had both tested positive for COVID-19. Freeman battled a 104.5-degree fever that night and didn’t work out with the team until six days before Opening Day.

Seemingly past the understandable slow start, Freeman preserved Fried’s latest effort when he drilled Chad Green’s 1-0 fastball over the left-center-field wall after Dansby Swanson had extended the sixth inning with a two-out, infield single.

Freeman has hit .404 and tallied three of his five homers while producing a 1.258 OPS over his past 15 games.

“We’ve seen it many times when he gets on these runs,” Snitker said. “His body is under him. He’s over everything. He’s in baseball shape and ready to go for a really strong second half of this shortened season.”

So too is Fried, who limited the Yankees to a sacrifice fly over six innings. He scattered four hits on a day when he admittedly came to the stadium wanting to match the no-hitter (even though his wouldn’t be official in a seven-inning game) his high school friend Lucas Giolito tossed for the White Sox against the Pirates on Tuesday night.

“It definitely crossed my mind,” Fried said. “I was going for it.”

Given what has been witnessed over the past month, this accomplishment seems achievable for Fried, who has limited opponents to a .190 batting average through seven starts. He has allowed one run or less in each of his past six starts and proven to be the team’s first-half MVP.

The first-place Braves have won each of the seven games started by Fried, who had stood as the only Atlanta starter to earn a win this year before Anderson claimed a victory in his debut.

“We handed him the baton and he ran with it,” Snitker said. “He was consistent. He was the one guy you could count on and he didn’t disappoint. When you put that kind of pressure and responsibility on a guy and they come through, it says a lot about the maturity and the kind of player they are.”